x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Obama urges Americans to end suspicion and fear

Yesterday's theme was in sharp contrast to the giddy optimism of hope and change that pervaded Obama's first inauguration speech. Taimur Khan reports from Washington

US Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts (back to camera) administers the oath of office to President Barack Obama as first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha look on.
US Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts (back to camera) administers the oath of office to President Barack Obama as first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha look on.

WASHINGTON//His hand on two bibles, one used by Dr Martin Luther King, the other by Abraham Lincoln, the first African-American president was sworn in yesterday for his second term in office.

In his inaugural speech before a crowd of 700,000 on what was also Martin Luther King day, Barack Obama outlined the themes of his continued presidency and reiterated support for democracy in the Middle East.

"We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully … engagement can more endurably lift suspicion and fear," the president said in a relatively brief, 18-minute address in front of the Capitol.

Mr Obama urged America to set an unwavering course toward prosperity and freedom for all its citizens and protect the social safety net that has sheltered the poor, elderly and needy.

"Our country cannot succeed when shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it," he said. "We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class."

The president declared that a decade of war was ending, as was the economic recession that consumed much of his first term.

He previewed an ambitious second-term agenda, devoting several sentences to the threat of global climate change and saying that failure to confront it "would betray our children and future generations".

The president did not offer any specific prescriptions for addressing the challenges ahead, though he is expected to offer more detail in his State of the Union address next month.

Asserting "America's possibilities are limitless", he declared: "My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together."

While expectations for what will be possible are subdued, the other major points of his agenda are clear. The president will push his proposals for stricter gun laws spurred by the massacre of children in Newtown and take on an overhaul of immigration policy.

Mr Obama's second inaugural lacked the electric enthusiasm of his first, when 1.8 million people crammed on to the National Mall.

Yesterday's theme was in sharp contrast to the giddy optimism of hope and change that pervaded that speech. It reflected some of the bitter political lessons of the past four years, as well as tempered expectations for the next term.

In his 2009 inauguration speech, Mr Obama promised a "new way forward, based on mutual interest" with the Muslim world and breaking with the unilateralism of George W Bush.

He could not have predicted at the time that the Arab uprisings would present an unprecedented opportunity to test this promise. Mr Obama's administration sought to engage with the newly democratic countries and rising regional powers through diplomacy and coalition building, rather than try to dictate its interests in the region.

As the second term begins, challenges in the Middle East east will dominate the agenda of his next secretary of state. Negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme appear likely, although their outcome is far from certain. The bloody war in Syria threatens to destabilise the Levant, and Al Qaeda is resurgent in North Africa.

But the inauguration offered a moment of symbolism and reflection for Americans as they contemplate the next four years.

The long queues at one entrance near the White House reflected the coalition of women and minorities that brought Mr Obama to office for the second time.

"The first time he was elected, we were just excited, I thought it was only once in a lifetime," said Stephanie Ashford, an African-American woman who travelled from Cleveland, Ohio. "This time, it's just over the top.

Charlene Burgess, a university health counsellor from New York City, added: "Having the inauguration on MLK day makes it two-fold, it shows how far we've come because it wasn't just black people who voted for him. But we still have a long way to go."

tkhan@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by the Associated Press

twitter: For breaking news from the Gulf, the Middle East and around the globe follow The National World. Follow us

 

A quote was mistakenly attributed to Stephanie Ashford in the original version of this article. It was made by Charlene Burgess.